Mind/Body/Spirit

Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivations And How To Use Them To Your Benefit

We are all motivated by different factors. Who we are to our core and our self-concept is where we draw our motivations. The image that we see of ourselves is developed from our personality, capabilities, and characteristics. When we are younger, the self-concept is moldable because we are still on a journey of self-discovery. As our bodies age and we experience life, our self-perceptions become refined and detailed. We arrive at what we feel to be who we are to our core and what is important to us. Every behavior and decision that we make has a reason behind it. Once one understands where their motivations originate, then they can make improved decisions that will lead to changing the outcomes. What is intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and can you use it to your benefit?

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

The word intrinsic is derived from the Latin word “intrinsecus“. Intrinsecus is from within — that is literally what it means. A person with intrinsic motivation is solely interested in the inner pleasure that they will receive after completing a task. When your motivations are intrinsically derived, you enjoy doing what you do. You personally feel rewarded and accomplished because your motivation to complete the task was intrinsic in origins. Rewards from intrinsic motivations are intangible because they are linked to feelings. When a person is driven to do something intrinsically they know that there isn’t an external reward. Intrinsic goals are all about satisfying one’s core human needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

Examples of intrinsic rewards:

  • Feeling of accomplishment
  • Satisfaction in doing a task
  • Enjoyment of a challenging task
  • Curiosity about a topic
  • Expanding upon knowledge
  • Feelings of self-worth
  • Sense of purpose
  • Achieving competency
  • Beating one’s personal record
  • Maintain optimal health

Examples of intrinsic motivations:

  • Spending time with someone because you enjoy their company
  • Exercising because you enjoy pushing your body
  • Reading a book because you want to expand your knowledge
  • Studying a subject because you find it interesting

To determine if it is an intrinsic goal, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this goal help strengthen my relationship with like-minded people? (relatedness)
  • Does this goal excite me? (autonomy)
  • Doe this goal assist in mastering a skill for my overall personal growth? (competence)

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

When someone has extrinsic motivations they are performing an action because of an external reason. Extrinsic motivations entail expected reward or avoidance of punishment. A person motivated extrinsically is not performing a goal because they enjoy it, but because they expect something in return and/or want to avoid the associated consequence. Extrinsic goals are all about polishing one’s image, attaining financial success and/or seeking power over others.

Examples of extrinsic rewards:

  • Salary/Wage increase
  • Social status
  • Trophy
  • Gifts
  • Bonuses
  • Promotion
  • Improved life and/or work conditions
  • Peer recognition

Examples of extrinsic motivations:

  • Spending time with someone because you can gain something from them
  • Exercising because you care about how others view your appearance
  • Reading a book solely so that you can talk about it during social gatherings
  • Studying a subject because of external approval

Which Is Best?

I was speaking with my cousin (who is like an Aunt to me) about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivations and she made an excellent point: 80/20 balance. Strive for 80% of your goals to be intrinsic and the other 20% to be extrinsic. Personally, I feel this to be a healthy balance.

An excess in needing an external reward to achieve a goal can lead a person to lack in developing and completing personal goals. Overall, ensure that internal validation comes first. The requirement of external validation is problematic because it impedes healthy self-esteem. Be aware of the feedback that you are giving yourself every day. Many people that rely heavily on extrinsic rewards tend to talk negatively to themselves.

If you are looking to build better habits for yourself, then start out with intrinsic motivation. You will experience fewer motivation kickbacks and remain focused on what you want to do. Learn to develop intrinsic rewards for yourself. Be aware of the change that happens within you. We tend to think that we aren’t making progress because it may not be tangible — at the time.

When you are focused on the meaning (or intent) and the impact of your actions, then you are likely to make quality-based decisions. In turn, those decisions will yield extrinsic rewards that provide gratification as well.

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